Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bogus Hoaxes and Bottled Water

The con, the shell game, the swindle. They exist everywhere to either extort money from people or companies, or as a means of ego-tripping on an unsuspecting public. A few examples are listed here – but there are many more.

Kelsey Macom of Buckley, Washington, worked at the Better Business Bureau, helping to sort out legitimate consumer complaints when, ironically, her 7-year-old daughter was injured by a piece of glass in a plastic bottle of Dasani bottled water, owned by the Coca-Cola company. According to the Seattle Times, “Macom said her daughter’s throat had been cut so badly that she couldn’t eat hard foods anymore, and was coughing up blood.” So Macom contacted Coca-Cola and explained the situation claiming she had had to stay home from work to care for her daughter. A few days after her first complaint, she followed up with another e-mail to Coca-Cola via her work computer. Coca-Cola sent Macom a response asking her to forward the bottle and the glass shard. Macom demanded $3,000 from Coca-Cola to settle the matter entirely. Simultaneously Macom filed complaints about Coca-Cola with the State of Georgia Office of Consumer Affairs, and with the Better Business Bureaus in Oakland, California, and Atlanta, Georgia, and contacted the California Food and Drug Administration claiming the same lot of bottled water, the one with the shard of glass in the bottle which had harmed her daughter, had gone to California.

Macom was then interviewed by agents from the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations since she was making rather serious allegations. Agents confronted her with the fact that she had filed a similar complaint claiming her daughter had cut her mouth on a glass shard in a chocolate bar. Macom received $1,500 in that case. Agents pressed her with the wildly similar stories and Macom eventually admitted she had made up the glass in the water story. Macom used her daughter and her employment at a consumer agency in hopes of getting a quick financial settlement and so off she went to court. U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton labeled the crime “despicable,” and Macom was sentenced to 30 days in jail, three months of home detention with electronic monitoring, and three years of supervised release for “tampering with a consumer product.” In asking for prison time for the hoax, Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Dohrmann noted it was troubling that Macon used her employment with a consumer rights organization to further her efforts to get compensation. “Defendant has provided the United States Probation Office and the government with several supporting letters, some of which are from Defendant’s co-workers who describe her as professional, honest and fair. In this regard, it appears that some may not be fully aware of the false claims to Coca-Cola and the Better Business Bureau that were part of her scheme to obtain money from Coca-Cola, nor that she actually used her Better Business Bureau e-mail address and work phone number as contacts,” Ms. Dohrmann said. Regardless of the crime, it does make one wonder about constructing an entire hoax just to extort a measly $3,000 from a large corporation.

--You may have seen the email scare that was, and still is, floating around on the Internet, claiming that re-using plastic water bottles will lead to cancer-causing chemicals to leach into your water. Whereas any bottle can be re-used as long as it is properly cleaned, people freaked out. The hoax originated from a University of Idaho student thesis and the mainstream media, without vetting anything, ran with the idea that any re-use of a water bottle might harm you. In fact, the FDA did not review the thesis, nor was it published in any scientific journal. Furthermore the paper incorrectly identified DEHA (a plasticizer) as a carcinogenic element. It’s not. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, and EPA, do not classify DEHA as carcinogenic to humans.

--Similarly emails continue to circulate allegedly coming from Johns Hopkins Medical Center stating that freezing plastic water bottles releases cancer-causing chemicals. Rolf Halden of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health debunked this. According to Halden the claim is an urban legend. He explains: “Freezing actually works against the release of chemicals. Chemicals do not diffuse as readily in cold temperatures, which would limit chemical release if there were dioxins in plastic, and we don't think there are.”

--And then there was Martin Mustapha, a Canadian hairstylist who claimed that his Culligan home-delivered water had a dead fly in it. He said he never drank the water, but became so obsessed with dead flies that he couldn’t sleep and was constantly on edge causing suffering in his work life and, yes, even his sex life. He was diagnosed by doctors who said he suffered from depression, anxiety and phobias and he won a damage award from Ontario Superior Court for $341,000! Fortunately Canada’s Supreme Court in a 9-0 ruling overturned the lower court decision, saying that Culligan was not legally liable for any “psychological damages” to Mustapha, assuming there was ever a dead fly in his water to begin with, a fact no one knows to be true or a lie.

There will always be wild accusations and unfounded claims about bottled water, as it seems to be an easy target, and fear is a prime motivator in a trusting public. Bottled water is one of the safest products on the market, but for some folks all they see is money in a bottle.

1 comment:

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